A marshland of uncertainties: YA over 60 years .

 reading passion


Inside, Out and Thinner than Thou

the-dystopia-challenge-badgeThinner Than Thou by Kit Reed


In this dystopian paradise the ‘perfect body’ is the Holy Grail. It is the new religion of the land and health camps are the new places of worship and redemption. What is this ‘perfect body’? It is neither too large nor too thin. Both theses extremes are ‘punished’. It is not just about your shape, it is your image as well. ‘Your body is a temple and it must be treasured, kept immaculate, perfectly coiffured and polished.


A cast of rogues and charlatans rule the country. The Dedicated Sisters, who ‘help’ the transgressors, are to be feared and then there is the Rev Earl, the evangelical, publicly, adored saviour of the likes of the ‘elderly’, who of course fear retribution (unemployment/starvation) for not possessing perfection any longer. There is a darkness behind the ‘joy’ and ‘positive’ messages relayed to the populace. All is not sparkling and wonderful in the land. These evangelical saviours run concentration style camps ‘helping’ the transgressor with enforced feeding or starvation. If you are sent to one of these it is ‘known’ you are never the same again.


Annie Abercrombie is handed over, by her parents, to these ‘helpers’ for her own good and to mitigate the shame she has brought to the family. However, Annie is loved as she is and how she is, by her siblings who travel across the land in search of her, to rescue and restore her. It is a hazardous journey as they endeavour to locate Annie and avoid any trouble themselves.


It is a land where double standards abound of course, and we discover some unpleasant secrets along the way. The messiahs of this new religion are, as with many religious or secular leaders, not without cracks and faults of their own.


With the present dysfunctional views of body image one could almost imagine this world existing, and I think a YA book on this subject is perfectly relevant. It may be, as some critics have said, a little thin in characterisation but it is a compelling and uneasy read for all that. Here is described all the pain and loneliness attendant on this ridiculous search for, and maintenance of, ‘perfection’. The absurdity of the fetishism for ‘beauty’. Whose idea of ‘beauty’? Whose idea of ‘perfection’? is a question that has been needed to be seriously examined for a long time.


If this novel makes just a few youngsters and their parents rethink the present trend towards unhealthy feelings about the human body then this is a book well worth reading. This old lady enjoyed the read and applauds the theme.


   The second book I am writing about to day is

   Inside, Out by Maria V Snyder


This is an intriguing Sci-fi book and the beginning of a series. A tale of a society consisting of different levels of importance in the population. So, you say, aren’t all societies constructed thus? Of course however, dystopian societies construct these layers to ensure the down-trodden, poor, worthless members continue to suffer the treading.


Trella is a ‘scrub’, a member of the lowest of the low, an outsider in society as a class and an outsider to her own kind; she prefers her own company and bends the rules, which govern her, to her own desire of being apart from the others. Her job involves climbing the maintenance pipes to maintain them and keep the air vents clear, all to keep life comfortable for the upper levels. After work she climbs back into them for a place to relax and be her own person. To be an outsider, such as this is, to be a rebel and scrubs can be recycled for fertiliser, as she is reminded on many occasions.


She is mistrustful of all except her one true friend. It is her care and loyalty to her friend that leads her to inadvertently instigate and lead a rebellion from these lower levels of society and reality.


The tale has many twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, much action and a few nail biting moments. In her dangerous journey to the top levels and what she hopes is the hopeful future of her kind Trella discovers kindness and support and learns to trust a little.

 Although I had guessed the end revelation before I reached it (I have been reading for many more decades than the young YA reader), all the truths are revealed slowly as Trella climbs her pipes and make for a good climax at the end. I found Inside, Out very imaginative with some intriguing details of this particular  ‘world’. It is a claustrophobic place and Maria V Snyder portrays this well. The other point in its favour that although it is the first of a series it works well as a stand alone book, ends neatly sewn together.

 I have read other YA during this challenge, including some of those I read nearly six decades ago, and will be reporting how I feel the old  stand up next to the modern day novels.  I was surprised I have enjoyed these YAs so much and, although I probably won’t be going out of my way to buy any more, after all my TBR pile is tremendous and my reading days numbered, it is great to know good books for children and teenagers are alive and flourishing.


                                     angler fish by Vlad Gerasimov

These two books  tick boxes both for the dystopian and the new author challenges

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins: reading challenges


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


I do wonder now why I took so long to come to this book; maybe I distrusted the public frenzy over it. I enjoyed the read, and not sure I understand those who say there could be more depth, the characters more detailed. This is an adventure book for the young. Stories fulfil different roles in our lives. And different genres offer different scenarios.

It is a brutish and very nasty world they all live in, sometime in the future, unfortunately this old lady can well believe something of the sort could happen, I have been alive to long I sometimes think! It is against the background of this appalling State /Government/life that all actions must be judged.

I enjoyed it despite misgivings. First of all what’s not to thrill at with a feisty heroine as Katniss, even this old lady enjoyed her fight to best the system. She is not perhaps the most sympathetic heroine. However, she would not have stayed alive and won if she had been the stereotypical ‘female’, and why people still insist on powerful women being gentle, submissive and ‘feminine’ I do not know.


Within the range of her determination to survive, she displays quite a decent morality. Katniss’s first act in the story, after all, is the supreme act of sacrifice, taking her younger sister place in the lottery. During the games she also displays a great reluctance to kill, unlike many of the other contestants.


Katniss shows herself to be an Amazon in the making; she can hunt and is amazingly well versed in self survival skills. Don’t let’s forget the bows and arrows; a good adventure is so much better with those old-fashioned weapons.


I know that as a teenager, Katniss would have been a hero for me to emulate, there were very few female leads in the books at my disposal when I was growing.


I found the violence more graphic and realistically painful than the teenage books offered to us in the 40/50s. The love triangle I was pleased to see was played down, there, but not distracting. Maybe love triangles are cliché but clichés are so because of the commonality of the event. I thought it was handled well. I also liked the extra dimension caused by Katniss use of it to win the day.


I have the next two in the series and will eventually get around to reading them because I would like to know what happened to the characters later, and that connection with the characters I guess is the proof of a good read.


Reading a book such as this though does continue feed my confusion over the term YA. The age group is too wide for me. Hunger Games seems to me to be at the adult end of the range and yet those I would call children still, are in the YA remit. If the book is at the adult end of the range of YA, it would seem to me it could just be an adult book. The violence alone could warrant it, shades of Lord of the Flies, the characters are certainly adults, the age group it is aimed at is of ‘call up and march to war in reality’ age. As always I chaff against the label:)


                                                 angler fish by Vlad Gerasimov

This ticked the New Authors and the Dystopian reading challenges

Life As We Knew It, Susan Pfeffer: two challenges ticked

the-dystopia-challenge-badgeLife as we Knew it by Susan Pfeffer


This was one of the first YA books this old lady tried. It is the first in a series, The Last Survivors Triology although I had not realised that when I picked it up to read. This time the disaster is not man made but the result of a comet hitting the moon and just shifting it a wee bit closer to earth. This appealed I have to say to an old lady who wonders how life will cope when the connivances of modern life vanish.


This is the account of your ordinary self centred teenage girl – and before the howls of protest children are self centred it is how the progress from childhood to adulthood. Miranda is average, her main concerns in life are fights among her friends, the schisms and tensions due to divorced parents, her homework and rows with her mother. Sounds familiar?


When disaster strikes it is Miranda’s mother who reacts the fastest and organises the supplies which will hopefully keep the family alive. She is the rock the children tie their lives to in the storm that overtakes them. Miranda’s journey from self centred ordinary teenager to caring responsible heroine is detailed in her diary.


If a catastrophe hits civilisation, or indeed when it does now in localised events, it is often the children who suffer the most. When everything which represents security vanishes they are left adrift and if the adults around them are struggling as well there will be no calm therapy for them. It is grow up or go under.


Miranda’s luck was her mother, who provided the tough love needed to maintain spirits and keep the family sane through the grim months that follow. Her sacrifices for the family and her stratagems to outwit fate are Miranda’s touchstone to survival. We mustn’t forget the genetic links as well as the nurturing ones, like mother, like daughter. I think Susan Pfeffer depicts this very well indeed.


I found myself enjoying this book despite misgivings about the genre. This old lady doesn’t mind admitting mistakes:)

I liked Miranda very much by the end of the book, she still has some growing to do but she is well on the way, it would be interesting to know how she gets along. I think I will try the next two in the series and see how she gets along.


                                     angler fish by Vlad Gerasimov

This book ticks a box both for the dystopian and the new author challenges



Dark Star by Prudence MacLeod

This year I decided as an Indie author myself, that I really should read some of the other Indie authors up here on cyberspace.  I also decided it would be a good time to try new genres or indeed revist the modern versions of those I had read as a youngster.  Step over the comfortable lines I had drawn around my reading habits over the years.

This week I have been reading YA, a term new to us in Britain, but which seems to be very popular with all ages over in America.  I am very new to the YA genre, and am well out of the age range:( I have recently, though, dipped the odd toe or two. I understand why they are written as they are and, on the whole, approve of stories that encourage, advise and inspire. They have never been part of my reading diet though; in a time of wartime shortages I teethed on adult tales of an altogether different ilk, but I am glad to have read Dark Star by Prudence MacLeod

This is a tale of ‘good’ witchcraft and religion, of intolerance and tolerance, belief and non-belief. It is also a testament to the power of friendships, relationships and love. A story about a group of children condemned for using ‘dark arts’, combined with paranormal creatures and man-made spells, this is not my normal reading matter but nothing ventured nothing ever, in this world, is gained.

The hero of the story leaves her family and her church, both of whom have tried to deny her the right to practice her own beliefs. In her angst, and plotting revenge, she begins to dabble in the dark side of witchery. Always a bad move. I’ll not narrate the storyline as I am not keen on spoilers, suffice to say she unleashes some formidably dark forces and imperils the world.

I enjoyed the play between ‘modern religion’ and the ‘age old’. Found the lengths that people and establishments will go to in order to preserve their beliefs and identities, handled well. The children, as they mature into the world’s future, find strength in true friendship and bonding, facing incredible dangers and responsibilities well, becoming stronger for it.

To my surprise I found Dark Star a page turner!  I became involved with the characters, wanting them to succeed, to survive, and although I knew they probably would, I wasn’t always sure of that point, Prudence Macleod keeps the tension going well.

I’m an old cynic and found the ending improbable, but maybe the folk I hang out with are not as nice as you folk across the pond. Would the church behave so in the end? I am not sure that tolerance or understanding stretches that far. But hey, it’s a book about dark portals, ancient magic, nasty beasties, and if I can believe in all those then I will suspend belief in this matter also and accept the ending fits.

A thoroughly good read, thank you very much Prudence.

Will I continue to dip toes in this genre, I think I will. The three I have tried so far have satisfied the younger me, residing still within the crust of too many decades:)

Dark Star can be found at the following